Opinions Don’t Matter
You may not remember the 1988 movie The Dead Pool but you probably know the simile that Clint Eastwood made famous “Opinions are like a**holes. Everybody’s got one and everyone thinks everyone else’s stinks.” In this post we’re going to talk about opinions and what you should think of not only other people’s but your own as well.
According to Wikipedia, experts are widely recognized as “a reliable source of technique or skill” and have “extensive knowledge or ability based on research, experience, or occupation” in a domain. It might see odd to use Wikipedia, a crowd sourced knowledge repository, to define “expert” since there is a theory known as the “wisdom of crowds” made popular by James Surowiecki in his book of the same name, that postulates that decisions are better made by a group than a single person, even an expert.
A different perspective on experts comes from another popularization of research by journalist Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers. He states “In fact, researchers have settled on what they believe is the magic number for true expertise: ten thousand hours.” Yes, 10,000 hours of practicing something can make one an expert at which point presumably you become a reliable source of knowledge. Gladwell goes on to explain how work or practice influences one’s success.
Once a musician has enough ability to get into a top music school, the thing that distinguishes one performer from another is how hard he or she works. That’s it. And what’s more, the people at the very top don’t work just harder or even much harder than everyone else. They work much, much harder.
While I agree with Sun Tzu’s “the more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war” and Louis Pasteur’s “chance favors the prepared mind”, my own experience has proven that opinions can be and often are wrong. An example comes from the time I spent at an online advertising company. Several of the senior exec team were discussing the look and feel of advertisements on publishers’ pages. We were all of the “expert opinion” that ads formatted a certain way would lead to improved performance. Given my six sigma background, I decided to run a quick test to “prove” our intuition. The results were startling in that they were the exact opposite of what we were sure was going to be correct. This resulted in us taking advantage of this insight to improve our advertisements performance and it also taught most of us a great lesson, test your assumptions as well as the unknowns.
There are so many easy-to-use A/B testing frameworks that you can use, there really is no excuse not to do so. Despite some designer’s resistance to use data to drive the look and feel of sites, this is how the largest corporations turn basis point improvements into millions of additional dollars in revenue. If you want to be an “expert”, besides practicing for 10,000 hours, you should adopt Socrates’ mindset of “the more I learn, the more I learn how little I know.”